By Samantha Johns
With COVID-19 causing travelers safety concerns, many dream vacations were left on pause.
When deciding to go on a summer trip to Miami in late 2019, Karen Beasley never knew she’d be flying in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. Familiar with the popular destination, the native of Smyrna, Tenn., was excited to go visit family she hadn’t seen in three years.
The plan was to spend the week of Fourth of July soaking up the sunshine and celebrating her son’s 17th birthday around their Floridian relatives. Torn between wanting to enjoy her summer vacation and ensuring the safety of her immediate family, the novel coronavirus presented a dilemma she wasn’t prepared for.
“We go all out for birthdays in our family so my son was really looking forward to reuniting with his cousins for the first time in three years,” said Beasley. “When the pandemic first hit we never canceled because we thought it would work itself out quickly.”
Flying never seemed like a huge concern when deciding on how the Beasley family would travel from Nashville to Miami. Air travel seemed like the most obvious answer because the family wanted to minimize travel time giving them more moments to make memories with their relatives.
“I’ve never been someone who’s afraid to fly on a plane and have always preferred it over driving,” said Beasley. “We had planned to rent a car when we got to Miami so we never saw a point to spend so much of our off time from work just driving to our destination.”
The Beasleys are no strangers to Miami, having traveled several times in the past to sail on cruise ships. “We were aware of the record-breaking number of cases Florida was having specifically in Miami-Dade county,” she said. Although they eventually considered canceling the vacation as July approached the family decided not to let the fear of contracting the virus keep them from living their lives.
“Since we’ve been to Miami before and our family is locals they advised us what areas were having higher case numbers so we decided to simply avoid visiting any of those areas during our visit,” she said.
Deciding to go through with the travel plans was only half the battle. “Flying in the middle of all this we expected more social distancing to happen onboard and that wasn’t the case on our flight,” Beasley said. With very little social distancing, the family was nervous to interact with anyone once they landed fearing they would contract the virus and pass it on to others.
“It’s a really scary time to be out in public,” she said. “Even though we were wearing a mask the whole flight after being in such close proximity to other people in such a tight space we were all a little uneasy after debarking.”
Airlines have expressed they wouldn’t be flying at full capacity to ensure social distancing happens on every flight but many haven’t been honoring that commitment. Fear of catching the virus onboard these packed flights have brought some tourists to opt for vacations to destinations they could drive to. “I made the reservations in spite of the coronavirus, which I don’t know what that says about me, but I was supposed to be out of the country and I needed a consolation prize,” said Ocala, Fla., native Jenique Brown.
International flights have been the most impacted throughout the pandemic, which brought her to cancel a birthday trip to Argentina in exchange for a week in Miami. Being from Florida she wasn’t unaware of the high case numbers but opted to stay in South Beach because of her familiarity with the area. “It’s city life so it’s difficult to be doing social distancing, so obviously cases are going to be affected by the number of people that you come in contact with,” she said.
Seeking a week full of celebrations she realized the South Beach, she once knew wasn’t going to be giving her the typical scene she was used to. “You know instead of going out for my birthday we had to have a small party which was still fun but obviously when you come to Miami you’re here for the nightlife,” she said.
With bars being ordered by government officials to close during the middle of her vacation and many of her excursions being canceled due to low participation this Miami trip wasn’t exactly what she thought it was going to be. “Obviously I would have been going to the club and having fun with my girls that’s not happening anymore.”
Although a different experience, Brown still made the most of her 23rd birthday trip without ever forgetting to embrace all safety measures throughout the city. “What I will say is a bit concerning is the number of people that aren’t doing social distancing,” she said.
Government officials have made masks mandatory at all times even stating they would fine those not in compliance, but it’s been hard for the city to enforce these rules. “The number of people that I’m seeing walking around without masks or not wearing them properly made me uneasy but I’m ready to come back for another visit. I’m already looking into making plans for Labor Day weekend.”
Higher case numbers might not have kept Beasley or Brown from visiting the city, but Delray Beach, Fla., resident Michael Rodriguez couldn’t be convinced to drive down for July 4th. “My wife is immunocompromised so it didn’t feel right to place her entire life at risk for a fun weekend,” he said. Broward and Miami-Dade County have the highest case numbers in the state of Florida so the family felt staying in their own county would be the safest option for them.
Opting for a nice staycation, the couple decided to stay at the Boca Beach Resort that was operating at 25% capacity. “During holiday weekends you can always feel a ton of people everywhere you go in Florida and that wasn’t the case here in Boca which was weird but it was exactly what we were looking for when deciding on a hotel,” he said.
In addition to the reduced capacity social distancing was required throughout the resort. Masks on while walking on the property except when consuming food or beverages and temperature checks reassured the couple they could still have a somewhat normal holiday weekend while being safe.
“Beaches were closed down in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm-Beach counties this year so I think that definitely helped keep out more outside visitors this year,” he said. Many tourists have begun flocking down to the state of Florida specifically in search of beaches after being quarantined in their homes for months.
“We love Miami and would have loved to experience another holiday weekend down there, but things are different now,” Rodriguez said. “We’re still living our lives as best we can but we can’t pretend the virus isn’t out there.”
Miami might not be experiencing its normal wave of tourists this summer, but the disrupted industry is doing its best to help accommodate travelers as best they can. Grateful for the chance to relive some sense of normalcy Rodriguez said he is looking forward to rebooking another staycation soon because of the uncertainty of when the pandemic will be over.
“We’re not out of the woodworks just yet but doing our part by wearing your mask, practicing social distancing, and staying home if you feel sick can help us get through this difficult time sooner rather than later.”